Operation Open Arms lends every assistance to US Marines lost in Hawaii CH-53 Helicopter crash

Local veterans organization Operation Open Arms came to the aid of the Jardas family recently following the loss of Fort Myers resident and Marine Cpl. Thomas Jardas.

On Thursday, Jan. 14, two Marine helicopters, each carrying six Marines, were reported missing off the western coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

The following day the names of the missing Marines was released. Among the missing was Jardas. He was serving as crew chief during a training mission aboard one of the two helicopters, which reportedly collided during the mission.

After an extensive 5-day search, on Jan. 21, the U.S. Marine Corps suspended the search and changed the status of the Marines from “missing” to “deceased.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Marines and their families as we all mourn this tragic loss of life,” the Marine Corps said in an official statement. “The Marine Corps is focused on taking care of our Marines and their families.”

When Capt. John “Giddyup” Bunch, founder of Operation Open Arms, learned of the tragedy, OOA came to the aid of the Jardas family.

“Whenever a Marine is lost or killed, all Marines past and present, take this very personally,” Bunch said. “OOA provided transportation to and from RSW, coordinating a helicopter flyover with Sheriff Mike Scott, hotel rooms for the extended family, and a professional bagpipe band. I understand Tommy Jardas liked bagpipes.”

“I was working with United Way and John Bunch and I crossed paths about 10 years ago,” Tim Jardas (Cpl. Jardas’ father) said. “When we got the news about my son, the family was at a loss as to what to do. John Bunch contacted us and I have to say John was just amazing. He worked night and day to help us. John was my ‘go-to’ guy for so many things.”

A Memorial Mass was held Monday, Jan. 25, at St. Columbkille Church in Fort Myers.

“It should be noted OOA secured helicopters for the prayer vigil, a lone bagpiper for the memorial service and prayer vigil, a bagpipe band for funeral, 8 hotel rooms, and airport transportation,” Bunch said. “Plus, Lee County Sheriff’s Department, multiple fire departments and multiple police agencies including Fort Myers were all coordinated by OOA including security of Jardas home during funeral.”

Then bagpiper Steve Adams of San Carlos Park, played “Amazing Grace” transitioning to “The Marine Corps Hymn” and ending with “God Bless America.”

“Just then the Lee County Sheriff Department helicopter flew overhead in a salute to the young Marine,” Bunch said.

“This was OOA’s (Florida and Marlyand) 33rd direct assistance for fallen heroes,” Bunch said. “Our first was 2005.”

OOA is a 501(c) 3 public charity. OOA has no payroll or salaries. OOA has no political or religious or affiliation.

Operation Open Arms, founded in St James City in 2005, has now become OOA Fl and OOA Md. To date 3,304 U.S. troops have received $12.1 million in direct benefits.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are suggested to Operation Open Arms, P.O. Box 101, St. James City, FL 33956.

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